My head was humming when I woke. I could smell wet ash and blood. I lay on a lumpy mattress, covered in several blankets. It was an effort to pull my arm out from under them and look at my hand. My hand trembled, but my eyesight seemed fine. I felt of my face. I seemed to have several small, stinging scratches, and my nose felt sore.
“May have bashed it against something when I was hauling you out from under the curtain,” said a deep, male voice. “I apologize.”
I struggled to a sitting position and looked around. The mattress sat on the floor in the back of a rectangular room. Two walls were white, painted cinder block. Another was drywall with a wooden door in the center. The far wall hid beneath several electrical boxes, framing an open door nearly hidden by the bulk of a very large man. His hair was dark and just long enough to curl. His eyes glowed a wolfish gold in his dark caramel face. Each ear sported two gold rings I could have slipped easily onto my thumbs. His blue golf shirt and jeans were snug over heavy muscles. He looked like he’d been told to “blend in”. I wondered if that was the idea of the smaller, blonder fellow sitting at the card table in the room’s center. Him I knew. Tag.
Tag snorted into the pre-packaged Caesar salad he stabbed at with a plastic fork. “Don’t apologize to her. It’s her bloody fault any way you put it.”
Tag was looking neglected. His flaxen hair was getting shaggy enough to hide his eyebrows, and his whiskers were growing in. He was dressed dapper in a white dress shirt, the French cuff sleeves rolled neatly away from his food. Over this was a pinstriped, double-breasted vest with dress slacks to match. Upon closer inspection, though, I could see he looked wrinkled liked he’d slept in it all, and his wingtips were scuffed.
“Give you a long night, did I?” I quipped. The effect was spoiled by my voice’s scratchiness and the cough at the end. I looked around for water. No dice.
Tag stopped chewing and glared at me.
“It wasn’t my idea,” I added when the coughing stopped. “Y’all have any water to drink?”
“Oh, pardon me,” the big guy said. He ducked back out of the room.
Tag finished chewing and tossed his fork into the remains of his… lunch? I looked at my wrist. My watch was gone.
“It melted. So did your necklace and half the theater.”
I gaped at him, rubbing my wrist and chest and around my neck. I wasn’t burned anywhere that I could tell. Was it because I’d used my own energy, somehow? Had I managed a ward after all? “I… Did everyone get out?”
“The humans were fine. Several said they thought the place was struck by lightning, and only two even remembered you were the one there giving the lecture.”
“But, that’s good, right?”
“There was no storm that night. It was clear. Also, we want them to remember you were there, or there’s no point. We need witnesses to this mess. The fact that you’re pulling in vampires old enough to glamour a theater full of people isn’t working in our favor. Neither does your pulling the bloody building down on top of them. You’re supposed to have more control than this.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe how poorly this went.”
“None of the normal people are dead, and neither are any of us. I think it went sort of okay…”
“Do you know how long you were in that bed?” Tag asked.
I swallowed, feeling my body temperature drop at that question.
“Three days. We’re in a bloody basement, doll. Do you know why? Because we were afraid if you didn’t wake well, we’d be in trouble and so would this building. Or the block, for all we know. You’ve unlocked something, and you’re not prepared to use it. It’s your fault for not saying something more clearly if you weren’t ready.”
I looked down at my hands. “Who did the vampire kill?”
“He didn’t attack anyone in the theater but you.”
“He was covered in blood when he walked in.”
“There’s no way we can check that until a body turns up. According to our large friend, you vaporized the vampire with a sunbeam.”
Not all my own energy, then. I’d be dead, not bed-ridden—even I knew that.
“Who is he?” I asked, nodding toward the doorway. “He’s not blending in all that well.”
“He blends in better than most of his kind. Good for you he does. He’s the one who pulled you out of the theater.”
I huffed a laugh, “And what kind is that—Barbary pirates?”
My rescuer ducked back into the room, breaking off whatever snarky reply Tag was about to give. In one hand was a pint mug full of ice water. The other held several bags of luggage slung over his shoulder by the straps. He strode into the room and flopped the bags at Tag’s feet. “Someone’s a pirate?”
“You are, apparently.” Tag said, “She wants to know where you’ve left your turban and scimitar.”
The pirate looked amused. He took two strides to the bedside, holding out the mug to me. I took it gratefully and drank up the whole thing. Ice cold with a hint of lemon. It was delicious. I could feel my body soaking it up already.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked him. “Hassan?”
He guffawed. It echoed off the walls, and goose bumps swept over me in waves—not unpleasantly—as I remembered the large arms and laughter from the theater rescue. Yes, this man had saved my life. He also seemed to think this whole mess was entertaining.
“Name’s Gary, actually,” he said. “I don’t have a turban, but I do own a scimitar. It’s plastic. I wore it to a Halloween party with my little sister a couple of years ago. I’ve never fought with a sword in my life. I prefer closer,” he flexed his hands, “or very far away.”
I shook the hand he held out to me. His grip made me feel very tiny.
“Adair,” I said. “I don’t fight, as a general rule.”
“Well, that seems to be changing, doesn’t it? I saw what you did to the theater. Also, Laish says he’s been training you. Meeting you is definitely a pleasure. We’re all cheering you, whatever Tag says.”
The mention of Laish gave me a pang. I wondered if his hair really had turned as white as my vision in the theater told me.
Gary stepped to the pile of luggage and hefted a duffel as long as I was. Something in it clinked, getting his attention, so he set it on end, pulled open a drawstring closure, and peered inside.
“I think I missed something,” I said. “Who’s ‘we’? And what should we be cheering, exactly? Last night hasn’t proven much.” Besides my ability to combust a vampire with a bolt of light and melt all my jewelry.
Tag got to his feet and pulled a smaller duffel and a garment bag onto the table, shoving his food out of the way. “If that isn’t the truth…” he muttered, then said, “If you’re done handing out true names, we should get moving. The ‘we’ Gary’s talking of want to meet you. Gary says they have info that will help. Don’t speak unless spoken to, though. Some of them bite.”
“Yeah…” Gary sounded embarrassed. “A couple of the pack elders have grown a little… physical in their old age. Some still think this may be a stupid idea, sorry to say…”
“Gary, for the last bloody time, stop apologizing for everything,” Tag grumped.
Gary grinned, visibly biting off another apology. “I suppose it’s a habit you pick up when you’re just getting where you don’t trip over short people all the time.”
Tag looked up from rifling through the garment bag, one eyebrow raised. He didn’t seem sure whether this was a direct reference to himself.
“Pack?” I asked. I got off the bed, stood and attempted a stretch. I felt like I should be making creaking noises. My clothes made gross crackling noises as I walked over and set the mug on the table. “You don’t mean, like, wolves, do you?”
“Not many other things have packs, love.” Tag sounded tired of the whole situation. I felt sorry for him. He didn’t ask for this. He was just doing his job, like Laish had asked, and he’d ended up baby-sitting me, wondering if he’d go up in smoke.
“But there’s no such thing as werewolves,” I said.
They both stopped what they were doing and stared at me in disbelief.
Gary’s laughter made my ears ache.
Tag rolled his eyes and threw the small duffel bag at me. “Go take a shower.”